Balloon Boy Brand Failure

On October 15, 2009, the American media was taken over by a breaking news story. Cable news networks carried the story live, and the whole country-and soon much of the world turned its eyes to Colorado. There, an amateur scientist who had built an experimental weather balloon found that the balloon had broken away from its base and blown away. At about the same time, he discovered that his 6-year-old son was missing. TV news helicopters, emergency service workers, and the Colorado National Guard were called in to help search for the boy. Two hours later, the balloon landed 60 miles away with no little boy inside. Five hours later, the little boy was found hiding in the family garage. Later that evening, the boy’s answer to an interview question on CNN appeared to indicate that the whole event had been a publicity stunt for the purpose of “making the family more marketable for future media interests.” One month later, his parents pleaded guilty to criminal charges relating to the hoax.

This story is a disturbing comment on modern society’s obsession with fame and celebrity. It appears that ordinary people are willing to do the most peculiar things to project themselves into the public eye. While we may be baffled by the actions of the parents in the balloon boy story and wonder, “What were they thinking?” a marketing or public relations strategist would have an easy answer to this question. The parents, who met at acting school, were looking to achieve what marketers refer to as “high visibility.” Marketers traditionally achieve this by creating a story about a product, advertising the product, developing events around the product, and writing news stories about the product. The balloon boy story follows all of these steps-only substitute “people” for “product.”

We are familiar with products and even places, such as Las Vegas or Venice, being marketed as brands. Now, just as products and places must compete to attract the attention of potential buyers and tourists, people, too, are looking to create distinctive brands for themselves to separate themselves from the anonymity of the crowd. In other words, these people want to become highly visible. In the past, an otherwise ordinary person might be elevated to high visibility-or celebrity-by birth (Prince William), extraordinary talent (Venus Williams), or some heroic deed (Captain Sully Sullenberger, who landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River). However, these days, there is a new kind of celebrity.

This new type of celebrity occurs when ordinary people with no genuine talent or skill achieve fame simply through repeated exposure in the media. In his book titled Celebrity, Chris Rojek calls this attributed celebrity. Paris Hilton and the seemingly interchangeable cast members of TV reality shows are perfect examples of people who depend on gossip magazines and entertainment “news” programs or websites to both put them and keep them in the public eye.

So these days, celebrity alone no longer guarantees visibility because competing wannabe celebrities are vying to keep their places in the public eye. One way for celebrities to widen their reach is through branding. Thus, the already successful Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airlines, has worked hard to successfully brand himself as an entrepreneur and an adventurer. David Beckham, one of the most famous human brands in the world, has boosted his fame by spending a lot of his time off the field endorsing products and sacrificing his privacy to the photographer’s lens. By taking advantage of the worldwide popularity of soccer, his wife’s early success as a pop star, and his model good looks, Beckham has boosted his earning power far beyond that of other equally talented players. And it is precisely this premium that others aspire to, because high visibility results in greater privilege, power, pay and perks.

Unfortunately, for the balloon boy family, its quest for a family brand has all gone wrong. Ironically, not only did it not achieve the perks of elevated visibility, the parents have been judged liable for the cost of the rescue mission. The end of this story will, in all likelihood, be that the balloon boy and his family fade into obscurity.

newspapers, magazines, radio and television considered as a group:
The issue has been much discussed  in  the media. 

take (sth) over
to start doing a job or being responsible for something that another person did or had responsibility for before:
She took over as manager two weeks ago.

a set of wires, covered by plastic, that carries electricity, telephone signals, etc: 
The road has been dug up in order to lay cables. 

taking part in an activity for pleasure, not as a job:
He was an amateur singer until the age of 40, when he turned professional.

a very large balloon that is filled with hot air or gas and can carry people in a basket (= container made of straw) hanging under it:
People first flew in a balloon in 1783.

a type of aircraft without wings, that has one or two sets of large blades which go round very fast on top. It can land and take off vertically and can stay in one place in the air:
a helicopter pilot.

to make a statement of what you believe to be true, especially in support of something or someone or in answer to an accusation in a law court:
The defendant pleaded not guilty/innocent to robbery with violence.

making you feel worried or upset:
The following programme contains scenes that may be disturbing to some viewers.

unusual and strange, sometimes in an unpleasant way:
It's peculiar that they didn't tell us they were going away.

to cause someone to be completely unable to understand or explain something:
She was completely baffled by his strange behaviour.

the degree to which something is seen by the public:
The increasing visibility of the nation's poor and homeless has forced the government into taking action.

to use something or someone instead of another thing or person:
You can substitute oil for butter in this recipe.

a type of product made by a particular company:
This isn't my usual brand of deodorant.

when someone's name is not given or known:
The police have reassured witnesses who may be afraid to come forward that they will be guaranteed anonymity.

to make someone or something more important or to improve something:
They want to elevate the status of teachers.

If something is genuine, it is real and exactly what it appears to be:
genuine leather

natural ability to be good at something, especially without being taught:
Her talent for music showed at an early age.

a quality or characteristic that someone or something has:
Organizational ability is an essential attribute for a good manager.

able to be exchanged with each other without making any difference or without being noticed:
interchangeable parts
The terms 'drinking problem' and 'alcohol abuse' are often interchangeable.

someone who enjoys talking about other people and their private lives:
She's a terrible gossip.

wannabe, wannabee
a person who is trying to achieve success or fame, usually unsuccessfully:
The bar is frequented by wannabe actresses and film directors.

to compete with other people to achieve or obtain something:
The two groups of scientists are vying to get funding for their research projects.

Having such easy access to some of the best cinema and theatre is one of the perks of living in Sydney.

a means of expression which suggests a different, usually humorous or angry, meaning for the words used:
Her voice heavy with irony, Simone said, "We're so pleased you were able to stay so long." (= Her voice made it obvious they were not pleased).

having (legal) responsibility for something or someone:
The law holds parents liable if a child does not attend school.
If we lose the case we may be liable for (= have to pay) the costs of the whole trial.

to (cause to) lose colour, brightness or strength gradually:
The sun had faded the bright blue walls.

not known to many people:
an obscure island in the Pacific

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Reference: Focus on Vocabulary
FoV 01 - C06U23

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